Reworkings of popular fairy tales are nothing new – we’ve had Mirror Mirror and Ever After revising the Cinderella story, the Hook retelling of Peter Pan and the tween/teen twists on Beauty And The Beast (Beastly) and Red Riding Hood – but this visually stunning live action twist on Sleeping Beauty lets us see the story from someone else’s perspective, that of the villain herself, Maleficent.
Fans of the 1959 Disney animated movie will remember that it was Maleficent who cursed baby Princess Aurora to fall into a deep sleep when she pricked her finger on a spinning wheel before her 16th birthday. But why was Maleficent so mad at Aurora’s father, King Stefan? Here we find out, as we meet Maleficent as a young, joyful fairy with stunning wings who lives in a magical realm that borders a human kingdom. It’s there she meets young boy Stefan and the pair become friends, but lose touch as they grow older when his ambitions take him away to his own kingdom. And when they meet again, it is Stefan’s betrayal that darkens Maleficent’s heart and sets her on the path that will one day lead to Aurora’s door.
It’s a clever idea to focus on a vengeful fairy rather than a snoozing blonde princess, and an even better one to cast Jolie in the lead role. With expressive eyes that convey betrayal, love and mistrust without her saying a word, and special effects cheekbones that are almost distractingly striking, she commands the screen throughout, watching over the child princess she has condemned while finding that she is warming to her. Director Robert Stromberg, best known for his visual effects for The Hunger Games and Pan’s Labyrinth, provides a stunning backdrop for Jolie to work with, too, from a magical world of fairies and goblins to battles featuring stomping trees, and impressive scenes of Maleficent in flight, and he populates the movie with a fun supporting cast. Fanning is cute without making anyone nauseous as Aurora, Copley suitably grizzled as the power-hungry Stefan, while Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple are amusingly annoying as the three fairy guardians who are so inept it’s a wonder baby Aurora survives to her first birthday, let alone her sixteenth.
This fairytale could have been even more twisted, and Maleficent’s lines deserved to be as razor sharp as her cheekbones, but as a 21st century re-imagining of a classic tale, this fairy tale is far better than many that have come before and worth the price of admission for Jolie’s terrific performance alone.
Is Maleficent suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
Younger viewers (under 7) may find the battle scenes and the moving trees a little scary.
SPOILERS AHEAD! They may also be upset when Maleficent’s wings are cut off (though you don’t see much) and also when she turns her faithful raven into a dragon.